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March cover story: Sheetfed UV

Mar 1, 2004 12:00 AM

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Sheetfed printers have a lot of reasons to get into UV, starting with the quality. In UV printing, specially formulated inks are exposed to UV radiation, causing them to harden, or cure, on top of a substrate. The result is visually striking, bearing high levels of gloss or dull coating, vibrant color and details that pop, even on today's popular uncoated sheets. Add in the fact that inks cure instantly, allowing for quick job turnaround and printing on non-absorbent substrates, and you have a press operator's dream come true.

Many UV printers contend that with these capabilities, they win jobs that conventional printers simply can't do. UV separates you from the pack: Says Troy Lancor, plant manager for Bruce Offset (Elk Grove Village, IL), “There are a lot of 40-inch presses in [this area].”

UV technology, however, is different enough from conventional litho that it has its own special considerations. “There are many UV options, all of them expensive,” sums up Bob Lothenbach, owner and president of Challenge Printing, Inc. (Eden Prairie, MN), which operates two UV presses. (Challenge was the site of AMERICAN PRINTER's cover shoot this year.) Meanwhile, wear on both press and plates tends to be greater than with conventional. Printers will also need to make sure their facility space, electricity and air-filtration system are adequate for a UV operation.

So is UV right for you? As you evaluate your situation and goals, consider the experiences of the following printers.

UV coating, in-house

American Printing Co. (Madison, WI) is a full-service general commercial printer that invested in hybrid UV in late 2001.

“Initially we brought inline UV into our shop just to add UV coating to our list of capabilities,” explains director of operations Shawn Welch. “We could do it more efficiently [this way] than sending sheets offsite — we wanted to control the turnaround times on those projects. We learned very quickly that the capabilities were far greater.” Today, more than 40 percent of the jobs coming into American Printing involve some sort of UV work.

Typical jobs for the $11 million printer include multicolor annual reports, brochures, marketing materials and point-of-purchase displays for corporate and agency clients. Run lengths range from 2,500 to 100,000 impressions.

UV jobs are printed on a 40-inch, eight-color Mitsubishi 3F-16 press with interdeck UV curing system, chamber/anilox coater and 12-ft. extended delivery. Two 500-watts-per-inch bulb lamps, from Grafix LLC (Burr Ridge, IL) can be set up after units two, four, seven or eight on the press. At the back end are three UV lamps of 400 watts per inch each. The Grafix system is liquid-cooled. American Printing's pressroom also includes a 40-inch, five-color Heidelberg Speedmaster and a 40-inch, two-color Heidelberg Speedmaster with perfector for one-over-one printing. A 28-inch, six-color Mitsubishi Diamond 1000 LS with tower coater was recently installed to replace two older 25½-inch presses.

Pushing the envelope

Much of American Printing's UV jobs are specialized, such as overprinting foil already stamped on a sheet, dry-trapping other colors over metallic inks or creating combination gloss-dull effects without the use of polymer plates. These jobs are usually produced on plastics, foils, synthetics and static-cling substrates.

“By pushing the envelope and not being afraid to try new techniques, we found other value-added benefits that we can achieve with interstation UV that most of our competition cannot,” notes the exec.

One job required multiple hits of opaque white over holographic foil. The white was cured, then overprinted with six Hexachrome colors and UV coated for a gloss level of 95 or higher. For another project, American's staff used a spot UV silver ink in unit two, followed by four-color process and two spot colors, which were dry-trapped over the silver to create what Welch describes as an unusual metallic look. The piece was then aqueous coated, reportedly a popular option with American Printing's regional clientele.

“All of this was done in a single press pass,” explains Welch. “The interstation UV lamps allowed us to get perfect ink trap on top of the silver. The only other way to achieve this would be in two passes.”

Welch points out, however, that such complex jobs come with an ongoing learning curve. “Printing inline UV coating on paper is almost turnkey with today's technology in press equipment, ink and coatings,” he says. “Printing on polypropylene that has been foil stamped, running two whites and six other colors that overprint the whites, foil and substrate, plus UV coating all in one pass, takes some time to figure out.”

Flexible press configuration

Bruce Offset invested in UV capabilities to up its quality level for its clients, many of whom are design conscious. The 130-employee printer produces work for paper companies, ad agencies and design firms, as well as retail, healthcare and insurance companies. “We have a great quality reputation and are known for always stretching our limits,” explains president Steve McGrath. “The new press will allow us to do things we haven't done before.”

Plant manager Lancor says Bruce Offset's newly installed Heidelberg CD 102 has an ideal UV configuration. The eight-color press has a docking station after every print tower and four UV curing units from IST GmbH (distributed in the U.S. by technotrans america, Inc.'s Sheetfed Div., Corona, CA) that can be placed anywhere inline.

A hybrid press does require switching blankets when alternating between conventional and UV jobs — Lancor estimates the additional makeready time can run from an hour and a half to two hours. Still, “it's less expensive than going full interdeck UV curing, and we have the flexibility to configure the press [however we need to],” he explains, adding that the press doesn't dictate how a job has to be run.

Bruce Offset was a Moore Wallace company (now part of RR Donnelley). A sister plant in Pittsburgh, Hoechstetter Printing, has more experience with UV — but with Hoechstetter's UV press only equipped with two curing units and fewer docking stations, a recent job to print an Internet gaming piece went to Bruce.

The game piece, part of a marketing campaign to drive customers to a website, was meant to be held up to a computer screen to decode hidden messages. Four-color process printing was done on a clear plastic, followed by three coats of opaque white, and finally a coat of gray for rules and regulations. “We were building layers of opaque white to block out the printing from front to back. The hardest part was getting enough opacity on the piece so you couldn't see the fine print from the front,” explains Lancor.

Cured or not?

When it first installed its UV press, however, Bruce Offset had a much more basic issue to deal with: “How do we know whether the ink is cured all the way through? They may be dry to the touch on top, but underneath they can still be wet,” Lancor points out. He says Bruce Offset's press operators initially resorted to using masking tape and scratching the surface with their fingernails to ensure the inks were completely dry. Eventually, the company worked with its press, UV dryer and ink vendors to conduct the appropriate tests.

Lancor counsels that printers considering UV technology develop a solid business plan. “There's quite a capital investment to get into UV — our UV option was about a $300,000 difference [from conventional],” he says. “If you're not selling work for it, you probably should have saved your money.” Bruce Offset conducted training not only for its production personnel, but also for its salespeople, so all its staff could fully understand the value of UV.

Early UV user

“It's a constant challenge for ink users and manufacturers to improve existing formulations with new components that create interesting outcomes, but are still in compliance with current card ISO standards,” observes Derrick Celewicz, plant manager at Versatile Card Technology (VCT) (Downers Grove, IL). Keeping to production standards is crucial to VCT, which follows the ISO 9000 series for management and documentation, and which is additionally certified by both MasterCard and VISA for bank and credit card printing.

As its name implies, the $60 million, 260-employee company specializes in producing a variety of plastic-card products, reportedly ranging in thickness from 10 mil to 30 mil. Cards can be UV coated or laminated, and can feature magnetic stripes, holograms and smart-chip technology. Services, originally intended for direct marketers, now cater to the financial, insurance and retail industries, among others.

VCT was an early user of UV printing, investing in the technology in 1986. “There were only a few UV equipment manufacturers back then, and we felt IST was the best available. It worked out very well for us,” says Push Venkitasamy, vice president of manufacturing for VCT.

Better lead time, better price, less waste

Which is not to say that production went off without a hitch in the early days. “Of course it was a big learning curve when we first started printing with UV, especially with our brand of inks,” Venkitasamy admits. “We had to learn its drying capabilities, viscosity and density, lamination properties, printability, gain and distortion, to name a few factors.”

Today, the company's three plants run MAN Roland 700 presses equipped with IST UV interdeck curing units and a Tri-Service cooling system or Spectral UV interdeck curing units with chiller system from Nordson Corp (Amherst, OH). VCT also operates Sakurai screen presses on which it runs UV, conventional or water-based inks, depending on the project.

Recent applications have required achieving effects of print depth on multi-plastic translucent layers, regular-light-condition invisible inks, fluorescent and glow inks, and security applications with high-definition guilloche graphics (a guilloche element is a drawing composed of thin curved lines that cross each other in an intricate pattern, such as those seen on U.S. currency). Typical run length on projects is 8,000.

VCT's Downer's Grove facility runs two UV presses 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “We can provide better lead time and better price due to less waste,” notes Venkitasamy. “Our quality is excellent on those presses.”

New market direction

Color Ink (Sussex, WI) boasts a variety of sheetfed presses in an 82,000-sq.-ft. facility: two six-color, 40-inch Komori Lithrone L-640 presses with coaters; a handful of multicolor Heidelbergs; and a smaller-format Ryobi 3302. In 2001, the commercial printer purchased a six-color KBA Rapida 105 with inline aqueous/UV coating and interdeck Grafix CoCure system.

“We started UV printing to give us a change in market direction,” explains Jay Zawerschnik, vice president and general manager of Color Ink. “This UV press allows us to pursue work in packaging and plastics, including point-of-purchase.” Jobs range from floor graphics to custom boxes.

“We chose the press because of its wide latitude in accepting stocks, up to 49-pt. board or plastics,” the exec adds. Color Ink prints on flute-type board materials, vinyls, HDPE, styrene, polyesters and static-cling substrates, with gloss or dull UV, or gloss, satin or dull aqueous coating. The printer uses the same set of inks to print on both board and plastics.

Run lengths for UV jobs range from 5,000 to 50,000 impressions; most jobs reportedly fall in the 10,000 range. Color Ink's clients span the nation and consist mostly of ad agencies and manufacturers.

Substrate standards

To minimize time and rework costs, Color Ink has set standards on 12 plastics and purchases them direct from the manufacturer whenever possible to maintain the highest dyne levels. “We have a hybrid UV press and need plastics with higher dyne levels,” notes Zawerschnik. “Our manufacturers developed specifications to meet our printing needs.” The printer maintains an in-house lab to test all materials for their dyne levels and ink adhesion. Other tests are performed based on coatings and laminates that are applied later.

“The UV process gives us the ability to close the production times, because the product is dry and can be finished more quickly than conventional printing,” says Zawerschnik. “It allows more jobs to be printed on a daily basis, and production dates are always being cut. Our success rate has been near-perfect with the quality control we've implemented.”

Doing more printing

Forty percent of Rainier Color's (Seattle) business is in prepress, but that didn't stop this former prep house from purchasing a UV press in 2002. At the time, Rainier Color was doing boutique printing for clients on a 26-inch, six-color Komori waterless press. The press was replaced with a hybrid model, a 40-inch, eight-color Komori with four UV lamps from IST that can be moved around between units. Three dryers in the extended delivery are used for applying coatings.

“We are doing more and more printing and wanted to give our customers the best quality available,” explains Glen Ripper, customer service manager and former press operator and production manager. “We believed we could do more by getting into UV work.”

UV jobs are printed using Sun Chemical's Hy-Bryte inks. According to Ripper, almost all of the company's uncoated projects are done with the hybrid, rather than conventional, inks. “It's so much quicker — there's no drying or offsetting, and no need to varnish,” he explains. Typically, these jobs are such products as booklets, printed on uncoated paper with heavy ink coverage.

Ripper acknowledges that switching from conventional to hybrid “takes about an hour longer than normal” in makeready, and the hybrid inks cost more than conventional. He contends, however, that with the quicker job turnaround and with fewer units being used on UV jobs, the inks end up costing less overall. “Printing with UV doesn't present any more problems than conventional, except some Pantone colors in the hybrid inks tend to be a little weak,” Ripper adds. “We always do ink drawdowns on UV jobs, and the ink company can make any adjustments that need to be done.”

Staying ahead of demand

Challenge Printing recently played a part in pop-culture history when it did a high-profile project using its UV capabilities. The job: printing four covers for TV Guide showcasing characters from the “Lord of the Rings” movies, complete with custom holographic images, four-color process, plus whites and UV coating.

Challenge installed its first UV press in 1999, recognizing the need to diversify beyond commercial printing. “Adding UV allowed us to provide a broader range of services to our clients, as well as grow the company in a new direction,” says owner Lothenbach. “Since then, we've purchased additional UV equipment to stay ahead of the demand that's come our way.”

The printer operates two UV presses: a six-color, 40-inch Heidelberg CD with H&B anilox coater, fully interdecked with an IST UV drying system and extended delivery; and a seven-color Heidelberg CD with coater and fully interdecked UV system from IST. This seven-color model is also the first UV press in the country to be equipped with Heidelberg's new vacuum belt pre-set feeder, which Lothenbach says has proven effective in feeding plastic substrates.

Challenge houses a plethora of other presses, including a seven-color, 64-inch KBA 162 with coater; and a variety of multi-unit 40- and 20-inch Heidelberg presses. A six-color, 40-inch KBA Rapida 105 with coater is scheduled for installation in Q3; a six-color, extra-wide-format, 60 × 81-inch KBA 205 with coater will be installed in Q4.

Full-time UV

Approximately 15 percent of Challenge's business will be produced on the UV presses this year, according to Lothenbach. The presses are “full-time UV,” staffed to run 24 hours a day, six days a week, with jobs ranging from lenticular printing, signage and POP work on polystyrene and PVC to folding cartons on paperboard, as well as printing on holographic and foil substrates.

Increased demand for large-format printing on plastic substrates has led Challenge to explore the option of adding UV-drying equipment to its 64-inch KBA. Though no decisions have been firmly made, Lothenbach says a UV option on this press would include interdecking and delivery lamps.

To first-time UV users, Lothenbach's advice is simple: Do your homework. He cautions printers to research the equipment, suppliers, materials and costs associated with UV printing. On press, he says, “learning which inks are most effective on each substrate, how much UV energy is required to achieve good cure and getting a feel for the operating window of the new equipment is just a process that must be worked through.”

The exec adds: “When deciding on press operators for this new equipment, take into consideration the person's patience and ability to figure things out. Those characteristics may prove to be as important as experience and skills.”

Mayu Mishina is managing editor of AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at

What's the scoop on UV?

We asked the readers of our “InRegister” e-newsletter what they thought of UV printing. Of those that responded, most cited competitive advantage as their reason for investigating the option. “UV is gaining so much popularity, it will be necessary to have it to be competitive,” comments Bill Ewasko, president of Aloma Printing (Winter Park, FL). “We are researching ways to put it in now, either offline or inline.”

Motheral Printing Co. (Ft. Worth, TX) recently purchased an eight-unit Mitsubishi perfector with a double coater. COO David Motheral cited the speed of turnaround as one of the big advantages of having UV capabilities. “It will allow for UV coating and printing of all our publication covers in a single pass,” observes the exec. He adds that Motheral Printing chose the coater option because it seemed to be the simplest and most efficient option for the printer's needs.

One web printer wrote in, frankly acknowledging the downsides of UV printing: “It solves some problems but opens a large can of worms on the other end,” he said. “There's the cost of ink, you need lots of electricity to run lamps, you need water-cooled vibrators to do UV right, it's harder on plates than conventional printing, blankets become embossed and roller settings have to be more exact. As you can tell, I like heatset better.”

For more on UV

  • For more on UV printing and the vendors that supply UV equipment, see “UV cures all” (June 2003) at
  • Find out what IST (technotrans), Prime UV and other UV-equipment vendors are up to in the months leading up to Drupa. See our online exclusive, “Latest in UV,” at